Most candidates run for the presidency, Governor Jerry Brown of California, however, is standing for President in 2016. Already having run unsuccessfully for President in three primaries – 1976 and 1980 when Jimmy Carter won and in 1992 when Bill Clinton won – the always interesting Brown has no intention of slogging it through the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries on this go-around. But if Hillary falters or flops, he is ready and able to put forth his record as a popular three-term Governor who will walk into his fourth term in November.
It is no secret that Brown craves the White House. He has had his sights set on it since he entered politics in the 1970s. The plan was always to win two statewide offices then go for Governor and then the Presidency, always playing it cool, with no overt burning ambition. But, the embers are still there.
His Yale Law School classmate former Senator Gary Hart, told the Washington Post that he’s going to discuss a White House candidacy with Brown at their upcoming Law School reunion for the class of 1964. Hart enthused: “Don’t rule out my law school classmate. If you pay attention to his career, you see that he does very unexpected things.”
Maybe he only does the unexpected when he is not in office. As a radio talk show host in California, he regularly denounced both the cash and carry politicians, including Democrats, and corporate crime. In 1992 he issued the “Platform in Progress,” an economic, political and citizen democracy program that towers over anything proclaimed by any statewide elected official in the past sixty years. As an elected official, however, he has been all “bread and butter” and, from a progressive agenda viewpoint, very cautious.
When Brown assumed the governorship again in 2011, California was running a huge deficit. He managed to balance it without too many severe jolts to his liberal base. In 2012, he won a referendum for a tax increase for the wealthy that further eased the fiscal condition of the state. The continuing boom in Silicon Valley and the stock market helped increase tax revenues, although it did little to alleviate the state’s chronic urban and rural poverty, especially around Los Angeles.
Brown can also tout a near two-thirds Democratic majority in the state legislature and a series of policy moves that a weak state Republican Party simply can’t get a toehold to challenge.
Along the way of Jerry Brown’s career, his caution has been troubling. He continues to support the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law (for individuals, not corporations). This has led to long prison sentences for stealing a bicycle and other cruel penalties, costly to taxpayers.
In spite of rejecting in 1993 his 1975 MICRA law which created $250,000 compensation cap for a lifetime of pain and suffering incurred by medical malpractice victims, he raises not a finger to easily repeal that cruel, heart-breaking limitation on horrific injuries to children and adults alike. Far more people die from medical malpractice in California than do from traffic crashes.
Even with the polls, focus groups, and evidence behind making the case to repeal MICRA, he has not pressed his colleagues in the legislature to move on the issue. An initiative – Proposition 46 – is on the ballot for November merely to adjust the cap for inflation to about $1 million. He has not publically supported this measure either.
The message to the medical and business crowd is that civil justice accountability for wrongdoing is not high on Jerry Brown’s list of priorities. He doesn’t like trial lawyers either. Moreover, he has cut the budget for the already hard-pressed California courts.
It is difficult to find more than very few significant decisions, whether as Mayor of Oakland or the state’s Attorney General that would mark him as a populist or a progressive or a challenger of the established powers.
Jerry Brown knows full well the inequalities and chronic injustices in our society. He reads widely, thinks independently, and is a wonderful conversationalist with a Socratic questioning bent. He is quite aware of the concentrations of power in our political economy and their manifold, grave abuses and short-sightedness. He is also a piercing observer of the foibles of prancing politicians on the campaign stage.
But, given his latent wishes for the ultimate office, he is also too much the realist – too ready to dismiss realizable frontiers. That suggests being too reliant upon the status quo by only making small changes, and not proactively responding to the rising tides of popular opinions for fair play that have been long rebuffed by the burgeoning plutocracy.
Unlike the progressive wing of the Democratic Party giving rousing receptions to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tour on behalf of Democratic Senatorial candidates for 2014, Brown is certainly not going to pick up chits in that manner. He just doesn’t think the propagandized, nervous electorate is ready to go to the mat for the all-out progressive campaign reflecting his long moth-balled 1992 manifesto, “The Platform in Progress.” His leadership motif is to continue to be fiscally conservative (“I’m tight,” he repeats) and socially liberal, with no baggage stemming from any pioneering proposals, other than the high-speed train project.
Maybe, when Jerry Brown’s quiet presidential fever subsides (assuming the corporatist and militarist Hillary captures the Democratic Nomination for another round of the Clintonian dynasty), the last two and a half years of his fourth term as California Governor could produce the emulative moves for a just society that he and his Democratic state majority are so capable of accomplishing. For that to happen, he has to lead vigorously.
If not, political scientists better go back to their drawing boards to discover some hitherto unanticipated equations that would make such well-placed politicians stand tall and responsive to the people.
Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.